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How to see inside businesses using Google Maps

The company introduces a new feature highlighting panoramic photos of local businesses.

Placing the Pegman on an orange dot will give you a panoramic look at a business.
Placing the Pegman on an orange dot will give you a panoramic look at a business.

A new feature inside Google Maps lets users peek inside businesses before visiting them, thanks to panoramic photos shared by the businesses with Google.

"These interior business photos on Google Maps give you the feeling of being there, and the comfort of knowing what to expect when you arrive," the company said in a blog post.

To see the panoramic photos, first zoom in toward street level -- if you're more than four levels up from the street, it won't work.

Click and drag the orange figure known as Pegman over the section of the map you're looking at. Once you do, you'll see orange dots indicating businesses that have submitted panoramas to Google. The company says "thousands" of businesses have submitted photos so far.

From there, just drop Pegman on one of the dots. The panorama will open up inside the maps window, and you can click and drag to get a 360-degree view of the business.

It's a handy way for scoping out a business before you visit -- Google suggests you might want to check out a restaurant's ambiance before planning a date there, for example, or preview the goods for sale at an antique store.

Something else it does: differentiate Google Maps from Apple's new maps product, which just happens to be hitting iOS devices tomorrow as a free download with a brand-new maps product of its own. The location wars are now fully engaged, and users are getting a raft of nifty new features to show for it.